The countdown has begun in earnest for a Kiwi dad who wants to boldly go where no man has gone before - Mars.

Iranian-born immigrant Saeed Ghandhari is among 100 people who have beaten 200,000 other applicants in a global selection for a one-way trip to the red planet.

Ghandhari, 35 - who works in a contact centre by day and a halal butchery in Auckland by night - is now strapping himself in to do battle to make the final pool of 40 would-be astronauts on the multi-billion dollar space adventure.

He has just been told he will next year join a 10-strong group of international hopefuls who will compete for a final spot on the journey.


The Mars One project is a crowd-funded venture conceived by Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp. It aims to create the most spectacular reality TV show ever by putting a human colony on Mars in 10 years' time.

"We have just been placed into 10 different groups of 10 applicants from different continents," Ghandhari told the Herald on Sunday. "I'm in group 1, or Team Blue. We have candidates from Aussie, Spain, Switzerland, England, America and NZ in my team.

"The next round of selection will be done sometime in 2017. Once the required funding is secured, we will be notified of time and location at least 6 months in advance."

The St Heliers man has a background in applied physics, astronomy and cosmology, but works as a contact officer for the Ministry of Social Development and also operates a meat business.

The next selection round will focus on choosing teams which could withstand the hardships of a permanent settlement on Mars.

Once the pool of 40 final candidates is selected they will undergo a strenuous programme of isolation tests in special chambers. If they pass that test, they will then be given a comprehensive, knowledge-based interview.

"I will do my best to be one of the final group," Ghandhari said. "I am already in contact with my teammates online so we can get to know each other better."

The news Ghandhari is one step closer to his dream comes as a spectacular new TV special premieres at 7.30 tonight (Subs-Sunday) on the National Geographic Channel.

The six-part series Mars will combine real-world stories with a scripted narrative to take viewers on a journey to the red planet.

"I'm looking forward to watching this, as it looks awesome" Ghandhari said. "I would say it looks about 80 per cent similar to the real trip we will be making."

If he is chosen for Mars One, his wife and two sons know he will be leaving them behind.

"I told them I would inspire my children to think about others and humanity and if they can help people, they shouldn't refrain," he said. "I will leave them with honour, respect and hopefully enough money to build their future.

"Imagine what would have happened if our ancestors had stayed in caves instead of coming out and seeking a new and better life?

"In that scenario, we would have been still staying in caves with no clothes, internet, technology and even fish and chips - can you imagine that?

"We should be really thankful to our forefathers who beat their fears and came out of the cave," he added.

"We can be our future children's ancestors, or modern explorers - and Earth could be our new cave."

In the next, and third, selection round for Mars One, Ghandhari and the 99 other candidates will participate in indoor and outdoor group challenges.

This is to assess their ability to work in a team within limited conditions.

They will be tested on:

• Interdependency, trust, their problem-solving and creativity skills - as well as their thoroughness and precision, and their clarity and relevance of communication.

• The candidates' knowledge of provided study materials will be essential to progress in the challenges.

• Candidates will be eliminated based on their behaviour both inside and outside the group challenges, which will be reviewed by the selection committee.

• At the end of each day, a sociogram will be used to explore the candidates' preferences - including with whom they would like to work and live.

• Every day, 10 to 20 candidates will leave the selection.